The Bengals defense is even more geared up to stop the zone run and Foster this time around. Pat Sims has been invaluable in stopping the run and is playing at a high level since being activated this season. He has always been a block-eating nose tackle, but his increased ability to penetrate has elevated his game this season.
And since Sims has returned, Domata Peko has improved his performance. With a steady rotation at nose tackle, Peko has avoided the late-game fatigue that he seemed to be experiencing earlier in the season when he was forced to shoulder the load. The Bengals’ interior line is well-equipped to stop the run, especially with the addition of Vontaze Burfict.
The Texans do have a few other runs up their sleeves, despite running almost exclusively zone plays. Especially when Ben Tate is in the game, who is more of a downhill runner, the Texans have some power blocking concepts melded with a zone technique. This power toss play is a great example, with the playside guard, tackle and fullback all leading the way.
It is similar to a the crackback sweep, with the tight ends sealing the edge, but Burfict’s quick diagnosis of running plays is a great combatant, allowing him to beat the pulling blockers to their mark.
Last time around, Manny Lawson played a large amount of snaps, which allowed him to be exposed in coverage. With Burfict, the Bengals can combat the Texans’ ability to run or pass out of tight-end heavy formations, often employing two tight ends and an H-back. Burfict is a better cover linebacker than Lawson while more dynamic against the run, and Emmanuel Lamur provides the coverage on tight ends like a hybrid linebacker/safety.
Another difference in this season’s meeting is the Bengals’ defensive backfield. Chris Crocker was ineffective last season due to injury, playing the high safety in the Bengals’ Cover 1 and Cover 3 defenses while Reggie Nelson was forced to play in the box. Crocker is listed as doubtful to suit up again, but with Leon Hall playing some of his best football yet, that becomes less of a problem.